Mitch McConnell faced several formidable challenges at the beginning of 2021.
Among them was former President Trump’s intense criticism of the Senate Minority Leader. While Trump likes to use McConnell as a rhetorical punching bag, only two senate candidates — and no sitting senators — have joined the former president in his crusade to oust the Kentucky Republican from leadership.
That includes Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Tommy Tuberville. They all (at least quietly) value McConnell’s legislative acumen.
McConnell never responds to Trump’s attacks. Nor has he addressed recent potshots fired by Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. According to those who know him best, all he cares about these days is helping the GOP regain the Senate majority.
But whether Trump’s petty lobbying campaign to oust McConnell ever gains traction, there is one force the 79-year-old can’t overcome — time.
Sooner or later, McConnell will step aside or be replaced, and his replacement will likely come down to a man named John.
The question is, which John?
POLITICO’s Burgess Everett explains:
The decision by Senate Minority Whip John Thune to run for reelection sets up an intricate shuffle among a trio of Republicans named John to succeed McConnell. There’s Thune the South Dakotan, McConnell’s current deputy, as well as former whip John Cornyn of Texas, the two favorites to succeed the GOP leader. Then there’s John Barrasso, the No. 3 Senate GOP leader whom Republicans believe is likely to ascend to the whip job first as Cornyn and Thune compete to succeed McConnell.
McConnell confirmed Tuesday he’ll seek to remain party leader after this fall’s midterms, no surprise given his goal of surpassing the late Sen. Mike Mansfield’s record for leadership longevity a year from now. Thune’s pursuit of a fourth term, however, has left the Senate GOP newly abuzz over who might take the reins post-McConnell, since political trajectories can change in an instant in the Senate.
Thune agonized for nearly a year over running again, a choice complicated by former President Donald Trump’s attacks on him for dismissing Trump’s efforts to challenge Joe Biden’s win. Yet Trump’s attacks ceased, and as he measured his future, Thune said the possibility of one day becoming Republican leader “put additional weight on the side of staying around, for sure.”
Whereas Thune may have the most straightforward path to becoming the caucus’ next leader, his low-key demeanor may be an hindrance on the national stage.
Cornyn has a more aggressive style that plays well with the narratives pushed these days by cable news. The Texas Republican also has the invaluable experience of leading the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) during two recent election cycles.
Barrasso remains the quintessential dark horse, but for the time being, he appears most likely to become the next GOP’s leader’s deputy.
The Wyoming Republican has spent years cultivating close relationships with junior Republican senators, putting him in a logical position to transcend to the GOP’s No. 2 spot.
While a leadership battle is inevitable, some senators believe talk is premature. Speaking to POLITICO, Maine’s Susan Collins admitted that she doesn’t “see Mitch McConnell relinquishing his leadership post prior to some future decision not to run for reelection.” When asked, Collins estimated McConnell would remain the GOP’s leader in the Senate for another five years.
But even if she’s right, McConnell’s potential heirs are men who like to prepare well in advance.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of American Liberty News.